Located on a six-acre land in the midst of a lush green environment, the Sarppakkavu (serpent grove) here has Nagaraja and Nagayakshi as the principal deities. It is a haven not only for the snakes, but also for several varieties of birds.
The temple has Sri Parameswaran Nampoothiri as the Karanavar (chief), who has devoted his life to the betterment of Sree Nagaraja Swami Temple.
The temple complex is located in the midst of high grown groves, thick bushes and shrubs of high medicinal value, on a six-acre land. It is nothing but the Sarpakavu (the serpent grove) as it is locally known as. Here, gentle breeze, embracing the shrubs and blossoms carry a fragrance that is beyond words. Hence, one can listen to the chanting of Vedas, Sookthas and Manthras by the departed spiritual souls. Here, we can hear the sound of footsteps and silent movements of ones who consecrated this temple and his associates; like the sages.
In the serene atmosphere of this serpent grove the air is filled with the rhythmic chanting of manthras and sookthas. The fragrance of the flowers offered to the deities, the sandal sticks of camphor and ashtagandha adds to a sublime spiritual experience at this serpent grove. The continuous glow of the kedavilakku, the radiance of the nilavilakku and thookkuvilakku; the rhythmic playing and sounding of various musical instruments followed by the magical spell of the nadaswara and panchajanya which sounds Ohm along with the manthras and sookthas from the throats of tens and thousands of devotees who assemble here every day and night creates an atmosphere of unity, irrespective of caste and creed, rich and poor, young and old. Undoubtedly, it is an abode of heaven and a heaven on Earth.
Kavu or Sarppakkavu
From time immemorial Kavu or Sarpakavu has been associated with the place of worship of Anantha or Adisesha as the main deity. The importance of Sarpakavu cannot be described in words. It has theological, historical and scientific connotations. It is a sure haven for Serpents or nagas; where one can visualize the presence of God.
Preserved and protected by ancestral souls, this sacred serpent grove maintains equilibrium between Man and Nature. The sages of ancient times materialized the presence of soul in every living object, whether animate or inanimate. This thought and belief had given inspiration to the modern generation to preserve the thick grown serpent groves. The Sarpakavu at Vetticode has a special significance. It is the dwelling and breeding place of tens and thousands of birds, animals and serpents. In the midst, one can see a deep pond and the idols of Nagaraja and Nagayakshi – Purusha and Prakrithi. The silent and stealthy movements of the serpents along the branches of the trees and groves are a sight to behold.
There are two ponds inside the vast premises of the temple. One is located on the southern side and the other on the south-eastern side. These ponds remain full in all seasons. As per the legend, when Lord Parasurama heaped the land for the temple, he took the land from the spot where the pond is currently located. It is considered sacred and as per belief taking a dip in the ponds would free one from all sorts of skin troubles and other diseases. It is said that the water in the pond contains medicinal quality because the water touches the roots of the medicinal trees in the Kavu.
Regarding the scientific and puranic significance of the tree – Arayaal it has different connotations. Abundant discharge of oxygen from the smooth and thick leaves of this tree is so hygienic and it is a sure panacea for headache and similar diseases. The troubled and tortured mind can rest in peace and the bewildered mind gets consoled underneath the shade of the sacred tree. It is after all not a simple branching tree. The ‘Puranic Encyclopedia’ throws light on the importance of these Arayaal trees. It says: The presence of the Trinity – Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Siva is embedded in this holy tree. The roots are Brahma, the stem is Vishnu and the apex is Siva. Hence the tree has wide significance, theologically and scientifically. More over, from an astrological point of view, individuals going through a certain Dasaakalam would get relief from their not so favourable planetary positions, by circumambulating the Arayaal tree. The Nagaraja temple premises have the presence of several Arayaal trees.
Lord Parasurama after the consecration of Sree Nagaraja Temple at Vetticode, entrusted Brahmin priests to undertake pooja (prayers) and rituals regularly as per his discretion. The original dwelling place of the ancestral forefathers is the Thevarappura or Moolasthana at the western ghat of the temple. Their predecessors are known as Meppallies of present Meppallil Illam. A particular portion inside the Nalukettu (traditional Kerala house) is segregated and the idols of Goddess Bhadrakali, Goddess Durga, Lord Vishnu, Lord Siva, Yakshi, Chathan and Moorthy are installed in an eastward direction. Daily offerings are made to the deities by the priest of Meppallil Illam at dawn. These deities are known as Thevarangal; hence, the structure name – Thevarappura.
The vast room in the ground that faces the west underneath the Thevarappura is called Nilavara. It is always closed and locked safely, but is opened once in a year on the Malayalam asterism of Makam in the Malayalam month of Thulam. On that day offerings are given to the tens and hundreds of serpents or Naganga’ – the dwellers of the Nilavara. One can see the serpents freely moving all over the place. The special offering made to the serpents on that day is Noorum Palum soon after completion of the pooja (prayers) at the temple. Thousands of devotees gather at the temple to witness the occasion. After the ceremonies, the Nilavarat is closed and will be opened only on the same day, next year.
On the southern ghat of temple near the pond one can see the Agama Sarppakkavu. The area has a thick growth of herbs, shrubs and bushes – literally a green mansion for the Agama Serpents. The Krishna Shila idols of Nagas, once worshipped elsewhere, but later disposed are taken to this Kavu after taking back its influence and divine power by the Karanavar of the temple and placed properly in this Kavu. Hence, it is called Agama Sarppangal.
Here, offerings are given once in a year to Nagaraja and Nagayakshi in different Chithrakoodas of western direction in the Malayalam month of Thulam which comes after the annual Aayillya Mahotsavam (festival) in the Malayalam month of Kanni. The family members worship these deities at the Agama Sarppakkavu without failure and pay homage to them.
The Aayilliya Mahotsavam at Sree Nagaraja Swami Temple at Vetticode falls on the day in the Malayalam month of Kanni, every year. The celebrations would start seven days prior to the Aayilliyam day. In these days, various special poojas, homas and kalasa poojas are performed so as to increase the deity’s power and the power to shower blessings on worshippers.
To please the deity, high sounding instruments are played by a group of experts. The nadabrahma that flows through the pipes of Nadaswara experts, the Kombu and Kuzhal (wind instruments) that are played to the accompaniment of percussion instruments viz. Maddallam and Chenda and the magical notes of the Edakka and the Thakil would transform the devotees to a different level of devotional experience. Soon after this the Ezhunnallathu (ceremonial procession) would begin. It starts from the temple and proceeds to the Meppallil Illam at about 3 p.m. and after the poojas there, returns to the temple.
By dusk, the famous Sarpabali begins and concludes by around 9.30 p.m. The temple will remain closed up to Brahma Muhoortha and after that the Shuddi Kriyas (purification rituals) will begin. This is followed by the abhisheka with tender coconut water from thousands of coconuts and pure milk. The festival will conclude with the daily poojas and Panchamritha Nivedhya.
Pooyam Thozhal festival
The highlight of the Pooyam Thozhal festival is the deeparadhana (worshipping with lighted lamps) conducted twice in a year on the day of Pooyam asterism in the Malayalam months of Kanni and Thulam. As per belief, one who witnesses this ceremony will certainly get mukthi (salvation). Final day of the festival is marked by Panchavadya (traditional orchestra); the Omkara sound that flows from the conch shell and the incessant chants of thousands of devotees rendering a divine atmosphere.
Significance of Ezhunnallthu
The Aayilliyam Ezhunnallathu or ceremonial procession of Sree Nagaraja Swami from the Sree Kovil (sanctum sanctorum) to Meppallil Illam is a majestic and captivating sight. Family members of the Meppallil Illam headed by the Karanavar (family head) with Vrithashuddi take the Sheeveli Bimba from the Sreekovil and after Pradikshina (circumambulation) approaches the Sreekovil of Nagayakshi Amma and pleads for permission to go out. Then the Sheeveli Bimba is placed firmly in front of the Jeevitha – (replica of deity) which would be beautifully decorated with flower garlands and gold. When the Jeevitha is taken out of the Balikkappura of Nagayakshi Amma thousands of devotees do the traditional Kurava (a special vocal ritual).
To the constant chiming of the bells, songs, hymns, musical accompaniments and the slow movement of serpents on tree branches, the Karanavar would gently walk with his assistants carrying the Jeevitha. The procession is marked by several types of decorated umbrellas, Alavattams, Venchamarams, Kuthuvilakku, Chamayavilakku, Thalappolies and Pulluvan Pattu. The Ezhunnallathu moves blessing the thousands witnessing it. It is a confirmed belief that no vishabhaya (fear of getting poisoned) will affect those who witness the Ezhunallathu for the coming one year.
The festival of Maha Sivarathri is associated with Lord Siva, one of the Trinities. It is believed that Lord Rudhra has a total influence over Lord Anantha and his followers. Hence at Vetticode, Sree Nagaraja Swami Temple on the occasion of Sivarathri Angas, Navaka, Sree Bhoothabali and special poojas are performed every year. The prime importance of Sivarathri here, is to depict the close association with Lord Anantha Rudhra.
Balabhadra Jayanthi or Akshayatriteeya
The birthday of Balabhadra the partial incarnation of Lord Anantha is considered as Balabhadra Jayanthi. It falls on Rohini asterism, Tritheeya Thidhi on the full moon day in the Malayalam month of Medama. Special offerings like Navakam, Namaskaram and special poojas are held on this day.